Marcus Blankenship Quit His Job and Reinvented Himself

Written By John Sonmez

When Marcus Blankenship contacted me regarding an interview about leaving employment and becoming successful, I knew I had to share it.

The paths we took in our careers is quite similar. He is an author, and he coaches technical managers, consultancy owners and startups.

It was a great opportunity to interview Marcus about quitting his job. As a coach, he has showed many people how they can quit their jobs and then feel like they never have to worry about getting a job again. I want to share his amazing story to everyone. He showed how hard work and perseverance will pay off eventually, and even through failures, one can still rise and become successful.

If you haven't watched the video interview with Marcus, you can check it out here. Below is the Q & A I asked him to put together to share on the site.

I remember when I quit my job, it felt so amazing. What was your experience?

Honestly, I overstayed my welcome a bit. I got caught in political crossfire between two VP’s, and was told I needed to “fish or cut bait” (quit my day job, or quit my side work). I had done my own thing on the side it for 2.5 years, and had a lot of ups and downs, so I took the plunge and gave my notice. My boss immediately hired me back as a contractor for 6 months at a much better rate, doing the exact same job. :-)

Marcus Blankenship is the owner of CREO Agency, an interactive agency handcrafting mobile apps, websites and brands in Southern Oregon.
Marcus Blankenship is the owner of CREO Agency, an interactive agency handcrafting mobile apps, websites and brands in Southern Oregon.

In retrospect, I wish I would have left sooner, but I was too scared of failure. My wife was in nursing school, and I had 3 teenagers, a mortgage, car payments, etc. I’m a pretty risk adverse guy, so I had to be “shoved out of the nest” in order for me to learn to fly.

If I had to do it again, I would have approached my boss about converting to a “contract” position much sooner. That would have been a good step that would have given me the ability to control my time more, and helped more quickly break the “employee” mindset. I’d to anyone who wants to eventually have their own business that they start by talking with your boss about changing to a 1099 (contract) resource, as it will really shift your mindset in the right direction.

I hear a lot of people saying that “I can’t do what you do John, my situation is different.” What do you say to that?

Hogwash. If I can do it, anyone can. Well, anyone who’s willing to put in the work. The hard part is that work feels like such a gamble at first, you just don't know if it’s going to pay off. But the only way to find out is to commit to the work, every day, and just keep plowing forward. Keep making mistakes, and learning from them. It’s not about being smart, or special, or a ‘unicorn’. It’s about showing up, every day, and trying again.
When I was “doing the hard work”, this was my schedule:

  1. 5a – Arrive at crummy, 250 sqft office, make coffee.
  2. 5:10a to 9a – Work on my side business
  3. 9a to 6p – Go to my day job (45 – 50hrs required)
  4. 6p to 9p – Go back to my crummy office, and work on my side business
  5. Saturdays: 9a – 5p work at my crummy office on my side business

I did this for 2.5 YEARS. And believe me, my little office was BAD. A blind guy had been living there, so it smelled like dog urine. I put 2 coats of paint on it, and it was awful in the summer time. I had a terrible computer, had to walk up 5 flights of stairs due to the perpetually broken elevator. It was really crummy.

But you know what: I wanted my business to fly more than anything else, so I was willing to work in those conditions. Lots of people I talk to want it to come easy, and so did I. But the crazy thing is in the coming years, when we were doing millions in revenue, and had built an 11 person team, we used to look back on the early days with fondness. We often wished we could go back to those “simpler times”, even though they were hard.

Why did you keep your day job so long?

When you have a day job, and your doing your business on the side, you can take risks. You can take the risk to invest more into the project than is “profitable”. You can try new things. You can give refunds. You can loose sales pitches without fear. You can afford to grow slowly, building the skills and experiences you need. You can do these things because you have a “safety net” of your day job. I think that everyone should start by doing it “on the side”, because it lets you remove money and fear from your decisions, and focus on honing your craft and running your business. It’s amazing how much more clearly you think about things when your not worried about making your mortgage payment.

In addition, I faced my first real “business ethical dilemmas” when I was doing it on the side, and while I’m happy with the choices I made, I got a glimpse into how difficult it would be in the future when their was so much MORE on the line. I realize that we’re not suppose to think that way about ethics, but you will. Learning what will be easy & hard early on will surprise you. Early on, focus on optimizing for learning, not revenue.

Would you ever go back to the corporate world?

My first priority is always my family, and providing for them, so I’d have to answer ‘Yes, for a time, or if the opportunity is right’, I’ve worked a LOT of jobs I didn’t like, so I’ve learned to separate my value as a human from the work I do, and see it instead through the eye’s of my God, my family and my friends.
But, I will never have the ‘employee’ mindset again, that’s been beaten out of me by the experience of running my own company. Even if I’m an employee I will always be treating the company ‘like I own it’. I think that’s a good thing, considering what a ‘company man’ I was for 14 years.

Also, as I said, if there’s a great opportunity to learn something new by joining a company, I would jump at it. I don’t care about titles or moving up in the company, but I’d love to learn more about Machine Learning, AI, and lots of other nerdy things, so if I had the chance I might do it for a year or two just for fun.

What do you do now, since your company shut down 18 months ago, and how did you reinvent yourself?

Ugh, that was really a hard time. It felt like getting a divorce from my partners, as you grow so close to each other. When we shut down, everyone else got jobs, which is great. I felt I had another run in me, so I got a contract gig doing Rails coding with a friends company. I am also a member of Brennan Dunn’s Consultancy Masterclass group (which I highly recommend), so I posted a message to the group that I would give away an hour of my time for free to anyone who wanted to work on their business. I actually didn’t think anyone would call, as I thought “no one calls losers”. ;-)

But then, the phone started ringing, and within about 2 months I was giving away 20 hours a week of my time for free. Everyone who did it wanted to do it again, so we setup recurring weekly calls. Since this was free, I was also working 40 hr/wk at the rails gig, so I was getting pretty tired. One morning I woke up and thought: you know, if there’s demand for this, maybe there’s money in it. I started playing with pricing models, and turned it into my primary business. So, I had to go back to doing the ‘hard work’ again, and figure it out. But it was so much easier the second time. Now I’m confident that ‘hard work’ will always be a part of my life going forward, as I reinvent myself more often.

What books do you recommend?

Soft Skills is a great, important resource. Developers (and even Dev Leads) so often focus on their hard skills, but the soft skills are particularly important in business. I also like “The Trusted Advisor” and “Value Based Fees” as great resources, especially if you’re planning on being a professional services provider. The last one is “Founders at Work”, which has been really helpful for me to see the struggles & work that other people went through to be successful. I found it really inspiring.